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Suspected drunk driver crashes into nail salon, four killed including an off-duty NYPD officer

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Jessica Schladebeck, Thomas Tracy
New York Daily News

Off-duty NYPD Officer Emilia Rennhack, considered by many to be a “beacon of professionalism and warmth,” was one of the four people killed by a speeding drunk driver who plowed his minivan through a crowded Long Island nail salon, police said Saturday.

Rennhack was getting her nails done for an upcoming wedding when Steven Schwally plowed his 2020 Chevy Traverse through the front window of Hawaii Nail & Spa in Deer Park around 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Suffolk County police said.

Rennhack, 30, had been married less than a year herself, heartbroken colleagues said. In September, she and NYPD Detective Carl Rennhack were wed at Giorgio’s of Baiting Hollow, also in Suffolk County.

Two other women and a man also died in the crash, officials said. Cops identified the women as Yan Xu, 41, and Meizi Zhang, 50, both from Flushing, Queens. The man was identified as Jiancai Chen, 37, of Bayside, Queens. Another eight women and a man were injured and rushed to area hospitals for treatment. One injured victim was a 12-year-old girl, according to police.

Some of the victims were found trapped under rubble inside the business following the crash and had to be freed before they could be transported from the scene, officials said.

Rennhack joined the NYPD in 2018. After graduating from the academy, she was assigned to the 102nd Precinct in Queens, which covers Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill.

Her husband, Carl, also worked out of the 102nd Precinct, members of the Det. Simonsen Foundation said.

The couple lived in Deer Park, a short distance from where she died.

“You could always see them at our events and they ALWAYS honored Brian,” the Simonsen Foundation, which honors the memory of 102nd Precinct Detective Brian Simonsen, killed by friendly fire in a botched Queens robbery in 2019, wrote on Facebook.

Rennhack’s death “has left a profound void in the hearts of those who knew her,” the foundation said. “Her colleagues at the 102 PCT remember her as a beacon of professionalism and warmth, always ready to lend a helping hand or a comforting word.”

During her six years with the NYPD, Rennhack was a model officer, racking up 68 felony arrests and 95 misdemeanor arrests, the department said.

A flag flew at half-staff outside the 102nd Precinct stationhouse in Richmond Hill on Saturday afternoon, and fellow officers wore black ribbons across their badges.

Schwally, 64, who survived the crash, was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated. He was speeding through the parking lot before slamming through the front of the store and was semiconscious when his vehicle finally came to stop at the back of the store, cops and fire officials said.

Police said all those killed were in the salon, which was open for business at the time of the crash.

“Our hearts are breaking following the tragic loss of our 102 Pct. sister P.O. Emilia Rennhack in an off-duty incident yesterday,” the New York City Police Benevolent Association wrote in a post on X. “Please join us in praying for her family, friends and coworkers.”

Those mourning Rennhack’s death included NYPD Police Commissioner Edward Caban, who said her life “was taken away far too soon.”

“We offer our support to Emilia’s family, friends, and co-workers during this incredibly difficult time,” he said on X. “Please keep our officer and her loved ones in your thoughts and prayers.”

Rennhack’s wake is set for Friday, followed by a Saturday burial in New Hyde Park, according to flyers circulating on social media.

Schwally, of Dix Hills, L.I., was taken to Good Samaritan University Hospital in West Islip, where he was treated for non-life-threatening injuries. He remained hospitalized Saturday, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney’s office said.

Additional criminal charges were pending.

With News Wire Services

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